How to Make Your Office a Greener Place to Work
Trend 1: Energy Independence is increasingly seen as an achievable design goal for office buildings
It's time to think of the original LEED certification standards as the warm up act. The newest office designs are striving for energy independence like never before:
Net Zero building designs (which require near to zero energy to heat and cool (https://living-future.org/net-zero/)) are becoming more mainstream thanks to clever energy conservation schemes, ranging from super-insulated building technologies to integrated "smart" building HVAC systems that optimize heating and cooling throughout the day by automating tasks, such as opening and closing windows, positioning sun shades and adjusting thermostats.
Newer Energy Net Positive buildings (which can supply surplus energy to the traditional utility grid (http://www.usgbc.org/education/sessions/net-positive-ener...)) extend the techniques pioneered in Net Zero construction by adding sophisticated renewable energy systems, such as large capacity solar or wind-powered battery storage systems that conserve excess power in large-scale battery storage systems. One of the most prominent new office designs, the iconic new Apple headquarters, is scheduled to open in a few short months; this building is purported to be powered entirely by solar array panels on the roof. According to the many rumors swirling around the project, Apple's new headquarters will qualify as an energy net positive building as well.
As the cost of solar systems continues to drop, they are becoming a more viable option for retrofitting existing smaller office buildings (or even residential homes). There has also been a shift in thinking for these smaller scale installations — the newest approach deemphasizes selling excess generated energy back to utilities or storing energy in relatively expensive batteries in favor of using solar power to run energy-hungry appliances (such as air conditioners) directly. This approach makes sense because when the sun is brightest, the cooling needs will be at their highest. Sensing a trend, heating and cooling supplier, Lennox, has introduced a line of small-scale air-conditioners and heat pumps (http://www.lennox.com/products/systems/sunsource) do just that — the equipment can run on a combined mix of both solar power and electricity from the grid. The built-in control will draw in as much "free" power as it can before using paid power from the utility.
Green rooftop gardens that keep office interiors cool, while controlling water runoff and reducing the unwanted urban "heat island" effects, are now a well-proven technology. GAP Inc. (owners of GAP, Banana Republic, and Old Navy stores) built a massive office complex south of San Francisco way back in 1997 that features a rooftop covered with a 6-inch deep layer of engineered soil planted with native California grasses (http://www.greenroofs.com/projects/pview.php?id=26). Not only does it reduce heat reflected back into the atmosphere, but the roof also helps keep the building quiet inside.
2016 marked an important turning point in energy usage. Renewable energy's contribution to the overall US energy generation mix is up significantly — rising from 8% to 15% during 2016. According to recently released data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), US emissions dropped 3.1% in 2016 compared to the previous year — down to a level not seen since 1992 — despite the fact our economy is now 80% bigger.
Advanced, energy saving office design is not limited to Silicon Valley or even western countries like Germany which is quickly moving toward a renewable energy grid. Under the leadership of Chinese engineer Huang Ming, known as China's King of Solar, the town of Dezhou has rebranded itself as "Solar Valley" thanks to its forward-thinking investment in "Solar Architecture."
Trend 2: To be green, look at the total life-cycle cost of your investments in interior furnishings and other equipment
Over the past 24 years since the U.S. Green Building Council introduced the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, it's become part of mainstream thinking to consider the impact that different choices will have on environmental and energy conservation.
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